There are many words you can’t say on a billboard but in Martin McDonagh’s darkly comic and borderline brilliant Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri calling out the local sheriff for failing to bring to justice a rapist, arsonist and murderer is fair game. At least from a legal standpoint. This is the set-up for a crime saga unlike any other, McDonagh’s film a foul-mouthed mystery brimming with colorful characters, its jet-black tone and surprising emotionality capable of causing fits of laughter and bouts of urgent somberness in what is one of the best films of 2017. Read More
Melissa McCarthy extols virtues of bullying as hardball go-getter in The Boss. McCarthy’s latest, a rags to riches to rags to brownie empress saga, is a decidedly un-PC yet still paint-by-numbers comedy-cum-drama, written and directed by husband Ben Falcone. Falcone and McCarthy last collaborated as writer/director and star/writer on the critically reviled Tammy and if anything can be said of The Boss, it’s that the duo has still not perfected the formula. A gaffe-a-minute affair puckered with sequin turtlenecks, trite physical gags and the occasional guffaw-worthy ribbing, The Boss continues Hollywood’s trend of planting the theoretically funny McCarthy in mostly lame-brained, decidedly derivative and narratively bankrupt outings. If not entirely without laughs, The Boss is still poor enough in them to qualify for unemployment. Read More
Adam Sandler has been candid about his lack of effort in projects of late. Last year on Jimmy Kimmel Live, he admitted that he chooses projects based primarily on location. Meaning, he takes his paycheck and his vacation and all he’s gotta do is tug on the lever that makes the Happy Madison assembly line run. A nerd joke here, a woman joke there. A dash of silly voices. Fat man slamming into something. Voilà! You’ve got yourself a Sandler movie. Read More
The X-Men franchise has always confronted big themes: tolerance, shame, homosexuality, even genocide. At its greatest hours, the series has relied on ideas of deontological ethics and ideologies of self-worth winning over flashy spectacle – although the vast display of superpowers were always welcome icing on the cake. Even the much derided Last Stand shoulders a message of coming together to defeat a greater enemy – about differences paling under the looming shadow of fascism – but that’s hardly something new to a series that juggles laser sight in with race extermination. Days of Future Past takes its place in the crossroads between bold ideas and blockbuster pageantry and though maybe it’s not the most outright fun X-Men film to date (that honor goes to First Class), it might be the most important.
Days of Future Past starts with a bang. A dazzling cold open sees a new pack of mutants coming to head with the iconic sentinels – giant mutant-killing robots hunting down the last of the surviving supers – and sets the table for the stunning special effects goodies in store. With the sentinels knocking on their door and no international borders or mutant powers strong enough to stop them, Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and his tattered band of X-Men devise a plan to right the events of the past. Harnessing her ability to travel through stuff, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) sends a battle-weary Wolverine back in time to the 1970s iterations of the characters that we met in First Class.
Charged with stopping the assassination of Boliver Trask, the man responsible for the sentinel project and who’s death was the catalyst for its expansion, Wolverine must get the band back together to change the events of the future and prevent the sentinels from ever getting the green light.
If X-Men was about coming out of the closet, X2 about unity, X3 about fear mongering, and First Class about brotherhood, X:Men Days of Future Past is all about course correction. Can we change the path we’ve been set on? Are people fundamentally good or evil, or does the gray area in between win out every time?
With much more of a centerpiece role than before, the story is essentially a battle for Raven/Mystique’s (Jennifer Lawrence) soul. Not saddled with her ho-hum lines from Matthew Vaughn‘s First Class script and seemingly more dedicated to this all blue role, Lawrence provides depth to a character that’s always been cloaked in mystery, showing off her penchant for ambiguity under the gun. In a movie filled with intriguingly unstable character conviction, hers is the most shaky.
Considering that the characters in the story rarely conform to absolutes, there’s something undefined about who the villain actually is. Surely some might think Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage) is the one to single out – and Tywin Lannister won’t forget you did – but he’s really just a scared little man doing the best he sees fit to protect his race against an invading species. If you hold a mirror to Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Trask is but a counterpart, his human alter-ego using full measures to fight the emending species war between homo-sapiens and homo-superior.
If there’s really one enemy in the film, it’s fear. Fear leads us to fight, to kill, to close down borders and look uneasily on our differences. It’s fear that governs the deeds of the villains here, that pollutes their senses and poisons their potential.
As has always been, Professor X champions compassion and acceptance, believing good deeds can cause immutable ripples through time, while Magneto sees the world in two colors: black and white; mutant and human; us versus them. In the midst of the film, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen share a touching moment that really puts the James McAvoy/Michael Fassbender timeline in perspective. “I wish we had spent less time on different sides,” McKellan’s weathered Magneto admits. Stewart just dips his head and you know he feels the same way. In the end, they’re just two outcasts who don’t want to live in fear.
Social commentary is a mainstay of the X-Men franchise and, when done right, is what makes the series more than just a popcorn cruncher. All the issues of the past installments are present and expanded upon in thoughtful brushstrokes now with Singer behind the helm again. Holocaust allusions ripple through the narrative as much as ever before, now joined to themes of drug abuse, free will and destiny. With so many ideas and timelines floating around, the narrative could have easily gotten fuzzy, or worse yet, pretentious but Singer manages to keep the high-minded ideas in check with brilliant displays of blockbuster showmanship.
A scene introducing Quicksilver (Evan Peters), aside from alluding to the fact that he’s probably Magneto’s offspring, provides one of the most innovative set pieces since bullet time and still manages to be stuffed with laughs. It was Singer’s ability to mix comedy in with superheroes and social issues that put X-Men on the map in the first place – and for all intents and purposes, proved that a superhero movie could be excellent – so it’s no surprise that he’s done it here again. 14 years later though, he’s even better at his craft.
For the many Last Stand haters out there, Singer’s own course correction will be much appreciated. With the events of Days of Future Past, he’s scrubbed away the mistakes of Brett Ratner – like rot from an otherwise living patient – and left only the portions that mattered most: Wolverine’s emotional anchor of pain and regret. He’s an evolving character, one we’ve now seen in seven films, and unlike anything else in movie franchise history.
Now present in not one, but two timelines, the question remains: how many more does Hugh Jackman have in him? Although he’s a tremendous dramatic actor (just look to Prisoners for proof of that), so long as the future installments are as great as this, I guess I wouldn’t mind seeing him ride this train until retirement. Especially alongside a cast this bed-wettingly good.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is not only one of the most anticipated superhero movies in the foreseeable future, it’s also an experiment in what’s to come for world building cinematic universes. Marvel had hopes that The Avengers would soar financially but even they failed to see just how successful their franchise would become. After essentially using their standalone films to promote an eventual team-up movie, interest in seeing separate films eventually come together is a market essentially untapped. Since the one-piece-at-a-time tactic has not been the explicit approach for Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer and Fox Studios are living in a bit of a Petri dish for all to see if their approach to building a cinematic universe on the fly is a box-office success or a flop. If this first trailer, and the internet’s stunned reaction, is any indication, I’d say we’re looking at a winner.
Although this first look is notably light on action set pieces, it properly outlines the very basics of the plot – a time traveling Wolverine must warn 1970s versions of Magneto and Professor X of a coming disaster involving mutant slaying robots. But instead of selling us on the spectacle, it mostly functioning on an emotional, nostalgic level. Stirring our nerdy desire to see the characters from the past six X-Men films share the screen, Days of Future Past looks to fulfill that promise of culmination, or, at the very least, suggest that we have lift off.
One narrative issue that the trailer suggests is that characters of the future and the past may not share many physical scenes. At least, that appears to be the case for the time being. If that approach is doubled in the film, with each set of characters condoned off into their own “present,” thusly not interacting together as a whole X-Men collective, then the promise of team-ups could come off as deceptive and insincere.
The more likely scenario is that Fox and its constituents are not going to blow that revelatory reunion moment on this first run of a trailer. If anything, it’s a trial run to gauge reaction to the concept. But if the film does end up jumping between narratives of past and present, us audience members might not be getting quite what we want. While keeping the stories largely separate could just work, it does set up a potentially disjointed narrative while also squandering the excitement of having all these actors share the same screen. If Wolverine proves to be the only connective tissue between the two subsets of X-folk, the whole trend towards character acceleration – the propulsion towards more, more, more – may prove to be too little, too late.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is directed by Bryan Singer and stars Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy, Ian McKellen, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Ellen Page, Anna Paquin, Shaun Ashmore, Omar Sy and Evan Peters. It hits theaters on May 23, 2014.